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ND Cross Country: Irish men headed to NCAAs

Joe Meixell | Monday, November 13, 2006

After the NCAA Great Lakes Regional, the Irish men have accomplished their goal, but the women’s team still has to wait.

Notre Dame’s No. 18 men team came out strong Sunday at Bowling Green, taking second place in the tough Great Lakes Region, giving them an automatic bid to the NCAA Championship Meet.

“Our goal was to get second place and get the auto bid to nationals so we don’t have to go through the at large process, so I guess we accomplished our goal,” Irish freshman Brock Hagerman.

Notre Dame scored a meager 104 points in the meet, but this score was far off No. 1 Wisconsin’s 52, but was just good enough to finish just ahead of No. 29 Butler at 107.

Senior Kurt Benninger (7th, 31:22.97) and sophomore Patrick Smyth (8th, 31:23.21) Led the Irish in their first 10K race of the season. For Benninger, it was the third time in his college career that he finished in the top seven in the regional race, as well as his third top-10 finish in four races this season.

“It’s great going into a race and knowing that our top two runners are going to score at the most ten points combined,” Hagerman said. “It would be nice for them to keep that up at nationals and both be up there with all-American finishes and give us two low sticks up there at the front.”

Although Benninger and Smyth led the Irish across the line on Saturday, the more important finishes for Notre Dame were by Hagerman (24th, 31:53.24) and senior Todd Ptacek (25th, 31:53.94) to keep Notre Dame’s score low.

“I think me and Todd both had pretty solid races. We worked together the whole time so it felt really good to run my first 10K,” Hagerman said. “Hopefully we can run just as well or even better at Nationals and that’s what we’re going to need for a top ten finish.”

Rounding out the Irish scorers was junior Jake Watson (40th, 32:16.70), whose performance, while not as successful as

“It definitely wasn’t our best race as a team,” Hagerman said. “So I guess that goes to show how much potential we have at the national meet that we can have an average day overall as a team and we still pulled out second place at Regionals.”

But the Irish women will have to wait to see if they get an invitation to the NCAA Championship Meet Nov. 20 in Terre Haute.

Notre Dame faced an uphill battle against a tough region, and could not crack the top four – their goal going into the race. The Irish did put up only 116 points, but were just edged to fifth place after a strong performance by Butler (111 pts.)

The top finisher for the Irish was again junior Sunni Olding (6th, 21:03.50), who has been the top scorer for Notre Dame in every race in which she has participated. Olding’s time was good enough not only for her third straight top seven finish at Regionals, but also gives her a chance to earn an individual invitation to the NCAA Championship even if the team does not receive an at large bid.

Following Olding for the Irish was a pack of three Irish runners – senior Ann Mazur (21st, 21:52.93), junior Julie Opet (24th, 21:56.41) and sophomore Heidi Rocha (30th, 22:07.78) to put the Irish in a strong position to finish well.

The last scorer across the line for the Irish was freshman Lindsey Ferguson, who ran the 6K in 22:17.27 for 35th place in her first ever Regional race.